The 5 Deadly Signs of Business Decay

While running your business this year, how many times have you been told, " It's not working "? Really. Think about it. Here are a couple o
November 16, 2009 While running your business this year, how many times have you been told, "It's not working"? Really. Think about it.

Here are a couple of specific examples: You created a whole new way to pitch clients but haven't landed one new piece of business. You launched a new line of shoes and no one is buying them. You developed a brilliant method of allowing everyone in the world who has access to the Internet to connect on a platform to change the world, and only eleven people signed up.

What should all this tell you? You don't need a $600/hour consultant or rocket scientist to raise their hands in the air and shout at the top of their lungs: Your business is in decay! Here are five signs that serve as early detectors of total business decay.

1. Focus on the past. We've always done it that way and it worked in the past. If you are constantly dwelling on the past instead of the future, your business is in decay. Let's face it, if your business model is not working now, it means your future is doomed.

2. The word 'new' has been eliminated from everyone's vocabulary. If you haven't launched one new "something" - project, product, service, technology or talent, for example - in well over a year (nowadays, with technology, it's more like every week!), you're in a downward spiral toward not just mediocrity but "Dullsville," and no one will pay attention to you, let alone buy from or consult with you. Experimentation or calculated risk-taking is essential, and if it dries up, so does the business.

3. People are tired. Especially you, and things are so dismal that the malaise has become contagious and spread to your outside world, too. Where once key influencers grabbed a quick bite, or returned a call or e-mail, they no longer respond to any of your overtures. Everybody is tired because business is flat or has run out of steam. There is also constant chatter that revenues are drying up and no one knows what to do about it.

4. The last straw breaks the business. Your star employee leaves for a competitor; your single biggest client takes its business elsewhere; your spouse gets hit by a car; a water pipe breaks in your central computer room. All of these unfortunate incidents can be handled, provided they occur individually and over a prolonged period of time. But should they occur all at once, the straw that's been propping up the business will break. Is a Band-Aid holding your business together? If it went through a stress test, would it pass?

5. The business owner wins every award imaginable and goes to great lengths to let everyone know that he/she won the award. Don't get me wrong. Awards are great, especially ones that are long overdue and seen as the "best in its class" because they give widespread recognition to the recipient and his/her achievement that may otherwise never have gotten any notice (e.g., recent Nobel prizes). But it's possible to get carried away with awards. I recall one instance when a business owner was trying desperately to get attention for his new business. To do so, he dreamt up an award - If there is no award to win, create one! - and won it. How coincidental! He thought this was a great way to achieve media attention. It was soon discovered that his company inaugurated the honor!

Winning a couple of stellar awards in a year distinguishes you as a serious player in your industry and certainly can boost your credibility in the marketplace; but receiving more than a handful, particularly unheard of honors, and tooting your horn all over about it looks more like you have nothing better to do with your time. The question that begs to be asked: How is business?

If you see one or all of the signs above, approach a trusted savvy business owner - one who faced a situation similar to yours and overcame it - who will listen, talk straight with you and offer advice on how to manage a course correction, spice things up a bit and make some big bets.

Put yourself back in the driver's seat and you will discover that the road to recovery and perpetual renewal for your business is only a short distance away.

Now, it's your turn. What are the signs of business decay you notice most? I welcome your comments.


About the Author: Global business expert Laurel Delany is the founder of (a Global TradeSource Ltd. company). She also is the creator of "Borderbuster," an e-newsletter, and The Global Small Business Blog, all highly regarded for their global small business coverage. You can reach Delaney at or follow her on Twitter @LaurelDelaney.